However, by the early 1990s, celebrity declarations of support were frequently reduced to superficial and meaningless gestures. It became trendy and expected to see a celebrity donning a red ribbon at an award ceremony. A very small group of AIDS activists challenged this norm, citing the red ribbon as a symbol of shallow compassion and hollow activism. Deidre Hall was one of the few public figures at that time to denounce this practice, and stand up for real changes that would improve the lives of people with HIV.
When she refused to wear a red ribbon at the 1993 Daytime Emmy Awards, a hailstorm of controversy and criticism followed. She responded by declaring this personal statement in Soap Opera Digest defending her decisions. Here is her exact quote from the June 8, 1993, issue of SOD:
I believe that televised awards shows are not a forum for expressing personal religious, social or political views. However, I have not objected when fellow performers have worn red ribbon to express their support for AIDS research; that's their choice. My choice is NOT to wear a ribbon.
Soap Opera Digest readers should know wearing a red ribbon is no longer entirely voluntary. Those who began by offering ribbons to performers now resort to extreme tactics in pursuit of their express goal of 100 percent conformity. When performers arrive at an award show, individuals who attempt to pin ribbons on them accost them. A performer who declines may be accosted at the pre-show reception, again while waiting backstage and again at the press conference after the show.
Offering these ribbons to celebrities was, in my view, a benign and pro-social act. On the other hand, aggressively badgering performers to compel the wearing of ribbons is no only demeaning to AIDS victims and to the desperate need for an all-out research war against the disease, but an offense against personal freedom.
By attempting to force 100 percent conformity, these activists are now attempting to make the red ribbon a visible litmus test for separating those individuals who empathize with AIDS victims and support AIDS research from those who do not. This is a misguided and dangerous notion.
First, it misguidedly politicizes human tragedy. These red ribbons provide a means by which public figures can appear to make a 'politically correct' statement in favor of a cause they do not support. A prime example was Barbara Bush wearing a red ribbon while seated among the audience at the Republican National Convention but removing it before joining the president on the podium.
Second, any attempt to force conformity to a single social agenda attacks the freedom of expression. The extreme activities that resort to harassment to compel actors and actresses to wear these ribbons are practicing a '90s brand of McCarthyism – and their behavior is deplorable. Our community was devastated by political extremists in the 1950s and again became a target during the last presidential campaign. It surpasses belief that men and women in the entertainment field would resort to shameful practices that the enemies of artistic freedom have used against us.
Sadly, it falls to some of us who ardently support AIDS victims and AIDS research to resist these tactics by personal example. Believe me, the easy way out would be to pin the ribbon on and keep silent. But I won't, because I don't want these appalling tactics to succeed.
What do you think? Do you agree with Ms. Hall's stance on symbolic gestures of support? Or do you think she would have been better off conforming to industry pressures? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating depression, stress management, HIV/AIDS issues, and grief/loss. He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at Amazon.com. He is currently helping thousands get through the holidays stress-free at http://www.shouldless.com/. To learn about schedule a session or speaking engagement, write him at Shouldless@gmail.com